Best Smart Pens 2017

Jeph Preece
Senior domain editor
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We tested the top smart pens from seven manufacturers for over 16 hours by writing, doodling and taking notes. We wrote out the Gettysburg Address with each pen to get a feel for writing longform and to test for accuracy. We also sketched at least two pictures with each pen to get a feel for how well the digital pens could replicate finer details and shading. The Livescribe 3 Smartpen Black Edition is the best smart pen because of its impeccable accuracy, comfortable grip and easy setup. 

Our Test Results

Product
Livescribe 3 Smartpen
Best Overall
Wacom Bamboo Smartpad
Best for Artists
Neo Smartpen N2
Best for Comfort
Moleskine Pen+
Best Notebooks
Price
Overall Rating
8.9
8.8
8.1
7.8
7.7
7.4
7
Performance
10
9
7.3
6.8
8.8
9.8
6
Design
6
10
8.3
8
7.3
2
7.8
Features
10
6.8
9.3
9.3
6.8
8.3
6.8
Help & Support
8.8
8.8
8.8
8.8
6.3
8.8
10
Battery Life (hours)
14
8
5
5
10
12
8
Sketch Capture Quality
A+
A
C+
C-
B+
A+
C-
Setup Time (min:sec)
0:26
1:02
0:34
0:28
0:30
0:05*
3:37
Handwriting Capture Quality
A+
A+
A
A
A
A+
B-
Comfort Score
B+
A-
A+
A+
C
C-
C
Weight (ounces)
1.1
0.6
0.9
0.9
0.7
1.3
0.7
Wireless Connectivity
Bluetooth
Bluetooth
Bluetooth
Bluetooth
Bluetooth
N/A
Bluetooth
Requires Special Paper / Notebooks
N/A
N/A
Audio Recording Capability
N/A
Mobile App
N/A
iOS, Android, Mac, PC
iOS, Android, Amazon
iOS, Android
iOS, Android
iOS, Android
Mac, PC
Tutorials
N/A
Warranty
1 Year
1 Year
1 Year
1 Year
1 Year
1 Year
2 Years
Why Use Digital Pens?
We tested the top smart pens from seven manufacturers for over 16 hours by writing, doodling and taking notes. We wrote out the Gettysburg Address with each pen to get a feel for writing long-form and to test the comfort and accuracy of the pen. We also sketched at least two pictures to get a feel for how well the digital pens could replicate finer details and shading.

After our testing, we feel that the Livescribe 3 Smartpen Black Edition is the best smart pen for most people because of its super-easy setup, straightforward pricing and spot-on accuracy. If you’re a college student, we recommend the Livescribe 2GB Echo Smartpen because you can take audio recordings without needing to get out your smartphone, and you can easily listen to the synced audio alongside your notes on your computer or with the pen itself.

If you’re an artist looking to keep digital copies of your sketches and doodles, we recommend the Wacom Bamboo Folio Pad because you can draw on any paper that you place on the pad. If you’re looking for a budget option and can sacrifice some quality for price, the Smarson Digitizer Smart Pen costs under $100 and works with both iOS and Android devices. 

Categories of Smart Pens
We tested smart pens that fall into three categories. The first is pens that have cameras built into the tip and write on specially marked paper. The second is pens that use a small transceiver that clips to the top of a piece of paper and then records the pen’s movements. The third type has a special writing pad that records your pen strokes through the paper.

In our testing, we found that pens with built-in cameras were more accurate than pens that rely on transceivers clipped to the top of the page. However, Wacom’s Bamboo Folio impressed us with its accuracy and easily matched the accuracy of the best pens with cameras built into the tip.

What We Tested, What We Found

Writing Accuracy
To test the writing accuracy of each pen, I wrote out the Gettysburg Address with each pen and then compared the written copies with the digitized versions. I looked for extra lines and incorrect strokes that didn’t result from poor penmanship and were incorrectly inserted by the pen. For example, the Smarson Digitizer Smart Pen randomly inserted the extra strokes and lines visible in the phrase “shall not perish from the earth” and in the “A” in Abraham Lincoln. Incorrect lines counted as errors and hurt the writing accuracy score.
Sketching Accuracy
To test the accuracy of the pens in sketching and drawing, I drew a simple house and attempted to draw a horse (it wasn’t pretty) with each pen. I looked for missing lines and incorrect shading when reviewing the digitized drawings for accuracy. In this digitized version of my sketch of a house with the Moleskine Pen+, details are missing from the upper windows which are clearly visible in the physical Moleskine notebook. As with the writing accuracy comparison, each missing feature was counted as an error and contributed to the sketching accuracy score.

Pen Comfort
Because most smart pens are heavier than an everyday pen, comfort is important. One of the pens recommended is the Neo Smartpen N2, featuring both comfort and accuracy. We calculated the comfort level of each pen by weighing them and then analyzing how comfortable we felt the pens were for taking a lot of notes – or writing out the Gettysburg address.

All of the pens except for the Wacom Bamboo’s pen, the LiveScribe Echo and the LiveScribe Smartpen 3 feature a triangular design. We found the rounded pens to be the most comfortable.

App Interface
We tested all the smart pen apps on a Motorola Z Play smartphone running Android 7.0. All the pens feature a mobile app for Android except for the Livescribe Echo, which only has desktop apps for Mac and PC. We considered whether the apps allow audio recording, whether you can edit the digitized notes in the app and how easy it is to use the app.

Desktop Software
Several of the smart pens we tested also include desktop software that allows for extra functionality like translating text to other languages or transforming handwritten notes into text.

Of the three pens that include desktop software, the Livescribe desktop software is the most intuitive and allowed us to easily browse and search our handwritten notes. The software included with the Equil Smartpen 2 and the Iris Notes desktop app were clunky and hard to use.

Who Could Use a Smart Pen?
Smart pens are becoming obsolete. If you own an iPad Pro, the Apple Pencil offers better accuracy and better functionality than any technology that digitizes physical pen and paper.

However, certain use cases, like taking notes in a college class or wanting to share your handwritten meeting notes, could make smart pens a smart buying decision. Be warned, however, that if your penmanship is sloppy, digitizing them won’t do you any favors.

If you find yourself needing a smart pen for just taking voice recordings, we recommend the Livescribe Echo, which has a solid voice recorder built in. If you’re looking for the clearest quality, though, a dedicated voice recorder will get much clearer audio. The smart pens in our review are best used for digitizing your handwritten notes; recording audio is more of an additional feature.

If you’re a true pen and paper aficionado, a smart pen could be a great way to digitize and keep track of your handwritten notes. The high price and questionable quality, however, makes choosing the right pen an important decision. Read more in our reviews to determine which digital pen might work best for you.